The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Import Dependency, and the Future of Food Security in Japan

Paul O'Shea

Japanese agriculture is in a bad way. Massive government subsidies and high import tariffs have failed to stem the inexorable tide of declining productivity, increasing import dependence, and falling area of land under cultivation. Against this backdrop those calling for the liberalization of the agricultural sector have gained ground in recent years. Yet agricultural policy, be it in Japan or elsewhere, is determined by much more than efficiency and comparative advantage. Indeed, the patterns of production, distribution, and consumption of food in Japan are subject to a variety of factors, including identity politics, perceptions of food risks, and rural policy.1 The main factor in post-war Japanese agricultural politics was the [1]

cultivation of rural support by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), aided by the disparity in weight of rural versus urban votes.[2] The result was a system where the LDP ensured high prices for farmers by effectively limiting foreign competition, and in return enjoyed the support of rural Japan. This chapter argues that today, regional geopolitics is supplanting rural votes as the key factor in Japan’s agricultural policy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement between states on both sides of the Pacific, representing approximately 40% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Yet the TPP is not primarily about trade: it is a product of the US response to China’s rise, and as such is a key plank in Washington’s ‘Asia pivot’ (rebalance).[3] The agreement was inked in autumn 2015 and if implemented will have a major impact on food-related issues ranging from Japanese farmers’ livelihoods to the ability of the state to ensure food security and food safety. Indeed, the consequences of the TPP for Japanese agriculture will be more dramatic than anything seen since the US occupation era land reforms. The first half of this chapter traces the background and development of the TPP in the context of regional geopolitics. It begins with a brief account of previous attempts at agricultural reform and domestic politics behind the eventual participation in the TPP. This is followed by a sketch of the emergence of the TPP itself in terms of the emerging US-China rivalry, emphasizing the role of the TPP in US regional security policy. Indeed, US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter told an audience on the topic of the Asia pivot, ‘passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier’.[4] Japan’s entry into the TPP is shown to be less about free trade and liberalization and more about the desire to cement relations with the USA and shore-up the alliance. The second half of the chapter assesses the implications of the TPP for agriculture, rural regions, and food security in Japan. It examines the current precarious state of Japanese agriculture and outlines the arguments in favour of liberalization. The chapter then turns to the potential negative consequences of the TPP, considering Japan’s declining rural regions and food security. The chapter concludes that in many ways, the domestic debate regarding liberalization, culinary nationalism, and food security has been trumped by geopolitical considerations and the political elite’s desire to contain China and strengthen the Japan-US alliance. Simply put, the desire to eat Japanese may not be as strong as the desire to hedge against China.

  • [1] For identity politics see also Farina in this volume, perceptions of food risks are also discussed byReiher, Takeda and Walravens, and rural policy is the topic of Jentzsch’s contribution in thisvolume. P. O’Shea (*) Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark Lund University, Lund, Swedene-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © The Author(s) 2017 A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan,DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_15
  • [2] Malapportionment — despite the large-scale post-war migration from rural constituencies to urban ones, these constituencies were left as they were. The result: votes of rural dwellers came tobe worth as much as four or five times as much as those of their urban counterparts.
  • [3] The ‘pivot’ was renamed ‘rebalance’ due to the fear that a ‘pivot’ would imply the USA waswinding down its activities and presence in the Middle East.
  • [4] Carter, ‘Remarks on the Next Phase of the U.S. Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific’, (lecture, McCainInstitute, Arizona State University, April 6, 2015).
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